The Government of Catalonia released the remains of three of the four Republican soldiers who died during the Civil War to their families last weekend. The deceased are Ricardo García Labaleta, Jaime Sabaté Saurat, Francesc Font Faure and Albert Mateu Ros. A total of 24 people have now been identified thanks to the Genetic Identification Programme undertaken by the Ministry of Justice, Rights and Memory.
Ricardo García Labaleta – one of those identified in the mass grave at Mas de Santa Magdalena
The Generalitat de Catalunya carried out an archaeological intervention in the mass grave at Mas de Santa Magdalena in Móra d'Ebre between December 2020 and July 2021. The remains of 177 people were exhumed. One of the people buried there was Ricardo García Labaleta. He was born to José and Francisca in Barcelona in 1921.
His niece asked the Generalitat de Catalunya to investigate through the Association for the Recovery of the Historical Memory of Catalonia in 2006. According to the information provided, Ricardo García Labaleta was a member of the Republican army during the Civil War, and he disappeared on the Ebro front in 1938, and may have died in hospital.
Three others identified in Isavarre
In March 1938, Franco's army broke through the Aragon front, which had remained stable until that point, and advanced eastwards. The operations ended on 20 April, when Franco's army reached the Franco-Spanish border.
Shortly after occupying Isavarre, Franco's army murdered ten men from Isavarre, Borén and Àrreu between 16 and 18 April 1938. They were shot in Prat de Fuster, between Isavarre and Sorpe.
In this case, the Directorate General for Democratic Memory gathered information about the mass grave by commissioning two research projects which were carried out by the historian Noemí Riudor: the first, in 2010, was a study of mass graves in the Pallars Sobirà region, while the second was a specific study of the Prat de Fustermass grave and the search for the victims' relatives, in 2018 and 2019.
The remains of the three men were found buried near the surface, with the remains of other individuals who could not be identified because the quality of their DNA had deteriorated with the passage of time.
The success of the Genetic Identification Programme
The programme is the result of cooperation between the Ministry of Justice, Rights and Memory (through the Directorate General of Democratic Memory) and the Ministry of Health (through Vall d'Hebron University Hospital) that has taken place since 2016. It is a demonstration of the Government's commitment to search for and identify the missing, and to restore dignity to those people and their families.
Cross-referencing of the databases containing genetic profiles of relatives and the genetic profiles of the remains recovered in archaeological interventions means that science can be used for restoring historical memory, and this technique has led to the identification of 24 people since it was first used in 2016.